A New Day in America
As my wife, Mary and I were packing to travel to Washington to attend the inauguration, I asked if she was taking her mink fur coat which she rarely wears in the warmer Memphis climate. She said no, she would wear her mother’s coat. We traveled by car with my son Mickell for the 910 mile, 14 hour journey to the nation’s capital. Along with thousands of others across the country, we spent more than an hour in lines that wrapped around the three House Office buildings waiting to get in to see our elected officials to secure tickets for the swearing-in ceremony.
Congressman Steve Cohen made several trips outside escorting his constituents past security so they wouldn’t have to endure the cold weather for too long. Everyone had a warm community spirit knowing that the next day we would all witness an historic event, something many never dreamed they would see in their lifetime.
Tuesday morning came early for us, with a 6 am Metro ride to the Capitol with the longest lines that I have ever seen. Nearly two million people gathered on the mall while more than 40 million watched on television and the internet to see Barack Obama take the oath of office. We were seated in the center on the lawn in front of the Capitol, about a thousand yards from the podium. Words can barely describe the feeling. Some watched with tears in their eyes. Many documented the occasion with cameras and video tapes. One woman wrote postcards to her family members and friends and planned to mail them that afternoon so they would have January 20th postmarked on them. It was simply electrifying. Everyone there beamed with pride and joy during the ceremony and afterwards strangers hugged each other saying what a great day this was for our country. It’s the beginning of a new era under the charismatic leadership of a man who has captured the hearts of a majority of Americans who are hungry for change. The diversity of our nation was reflected in the diversity of the crowd. Several thousand came from Memphis on buses, cars, planes and trains to witness firsthand this incredible moment in our history.
The parade was also wonderful. Seeing the new leader of the most powerful nation in the world walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, smiling with his wife was the traditional symbol of a down-to -earth couple that we will always remember. In many ways, this inauguration was a mini economic stimulus plan for Washington, DC. All of the hotels throughout the area were full, restaurants were at their capacity, a record number of people rode the Metro and thousands of street vendors were selling anything and everything Obama. One artist was selling prints of his original painting of several deceased African-Americans, including Tupac Shakur, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Huey Newton and others, riding horses with our 44th President in the middle, heading into the sunset.
There were more than 125 inaugural balls in Washington Tuesday evening along with untold thousands of parties in homes throughout the nation. Mary, Mickell and I went to the Southern Inaugural Ball at the DC Armory which wasn’t quite as elegant as we expected. Aside from the two stages for the entertainers, there were only a few stand-up tables, no decorations, a seating area in the balcony and sweets, cheeses and a little fruit for hors d’oeuvres. This was one of 10 official inaugural balls which were attended by members of Congress with a special appearance by our new President and First Lady. This, of course, was the highlight of the evening. After telling the audience of several thousand that “this is your day to celebrate” and slow dancing with his wife on stage, the President waved goodbye and said, “Let’s get to work, America.”
Mary once told me that her mother, 84 year old Ruth Campbell, never dreamed that she would live to see an African-American President of the United States. She didn’t. Mrs. Campbell passed away 72 hours before we left to attend these events. Mary wore her mother’s coat to all of these events with a sense of pride, not only for herself, but for her grandchildren who she will tell of this once in a lifetime journey. It will be a story much different than the stories her mother told her while growing up in rural Shelby County.
This is a new day in America and the world. Our first African-American President brings with him a renewed sense of hope and optimism for our future.
- Councilman Myron Lowery